Eating Out in Charleston: A Cautionary Tale

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About a month ago, we spent a few days in Charleston.  I was surprised how much I loved it; the historic neighborhoods have charming architecture and there are so many opportunities to visit historic places such as Fort Sumter and actual plantation sites. I recorded much of our Charleston adventures in a post HERE.  One of the things we love to do when we travel is explore local eateries and discover the dishes a region is known for. Several people, including a high school friend of Roy’s who lives there and  Peg Moore, Chief Culinary Correspondent at the Charleston Mercury (who I was thrilled to meet), gave us suggestions of “must try” restaurants. It makes sense that these same places were also listed high up on Trip Advisor.  For the curious, here is the recommendations we were given:  Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar, Hanks Seafood Restaurant, Hominy Grill, McGrady’s, Magnolias, and SNOB – Slightly, North of Broad. Guess how many of these famed establishments we got to eat at? Just one. Turns out reservations are a pretty big deal! We showed up at Hanks on a Tuesday at 5 pm. after being turned away a few days earlier. Ninety-nine percent of the tables were empty. We were sure we would be able to get in, but were told that the only place we could be seated was on high stools at the large community table. We wondered  if our wind blown look after visiting Fort Sumter had something to do with it as we turned down the offer. Their menu was way too expensive to feel like we were dining at a lunch counter. We wandered down to Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar and luckily got seated right away, tousled look and all! Below are thoughts on the restaurants we did get to try- including Amen Street.  I’ve also included a recipe  from Cook’s Illustrated for an old southern favorite, pimento cheese. So, lesson learned: in a major foodie city like Charleston, make reservations!

Box Car Betty’s


Yum, yum, yum the fried chicken sandwiches at Box Car Betty’s are delish! Roy ordered the Boxcar and loved it. I had the Chicken & “Not So Waffle” and relished the spicy/salty/sweet flavors. The sandwiches were served on small baking sheets and both had pimento cheese on them, hence the recipe at the end of this post! We also loved the fried pickles and the French fries. The place was once a house, and although not huge, it was cute inside. It filled up quickly and some of the patrons were cadets in uniform from the Citadel. Apparently, there is also a take out option.

Charleston Crab House Seafood Restaurant

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We ate at Charleston Crab House on a Sunday after not being able to get into Hanks or Hominy Grill.  At that point, since we were hungry and it looked decent, we went for it. It got good reviews besides being #35 out of 656 on Trip Advisor and we found the food pretty tasty. I had a cup of the She Crab Soup and a Shrimp Po’Boy Sandwich. Roy enjoyed his Carolina Platter that had crab legs, shrimp, and a crab cake on it.  One thing the venue has going for it, is the roof top seating. Later we learned via our driver on the carriage ride we took, that back in the day, the building was once a brothel.

Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar

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We were impressed by the fact that Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar took us in off the street without a reservation, but the fact that it was just a bit after five probably helped our cause! Our waiter was excellent; he was unhurried while explaining the menu which included a vast selection of oysters that were offered that day. We chose a couple from three different types and they arrived with crackers, lemons, and different sauces. I ordered the Charleston standard, Shrimp and Grits, and found it rich and delicious. Roy opted to have his fish “herb grilled” and he said it was great.

Pimento Cheese Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine – yields three cups



2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 (4 oz.) jar pimentos

1 (8 oz.) package finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 (8 oz.) Package regular shredded cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

14 (or less) teaspoon cayenne pepper


With an electric mixer, gently combine all ingredients together just until spreadable. Use as a sandwich filling or cracker spread.

So, has anyone else had a similar experience in Charleston? Does anyone have a great Charleston restaurant to recommend?

I’d love to hear about it!

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